Thursday, January 17, 2008

Advice to a parent

Following on from the last post I had an e-mail:
My 17 year old son announced last summer that he wouldn't go the Mass any more, precisely because "it's so boring". Our PP is a three sermon man at best (start, sermon,and notices) and never prepares anything. He talks, and talks, and talks, and talks, and talks. (His best yet is six: the normal three, where there was a Pastoral Letter: to which he added a commentary, a post-Offertory sermon, and one before Communion.)

The young curate, who will soon be taken from us and not replaced, and who my son really likes, tried reasoning and got the reply: "Mass should be about Jesus, not priests"; to which there is no easy answer.

There is a sound underlying faith there, and a lot of family and friends praying for him, and an absolutely delightful polite, considerate, young man: but I couldn't find a decent argument to attract him to Mass other than a penitential one, such as "offer it up", which I didn't use.
In Xto....

My advice is to try and help him find him a place, a group, an organisation, a monastery or something where he will feel he belongs and that involves a bit of a challenge. The danger is that once someone stops practicing it is so very difficult to take it up again.

What advice would you give?


Anonymous said...

Dear Father,

I don't find mass boring in the slightest - infact l find it quite exhilarating. I do however have a tendency to yawn a great deal during mass.

Can you help?


PS My favourite bit of mass is your sermon although l suspect referring to any part of the mass as "my favourite bit" is an inappropriately un-holy expression.

PPS I stopped going to mass from the age of 18. I came back when l felt called by someone else other than my mother. He will come back- they do eventually.

Fr Ray Blake said...

How very kind!

Yawning: my Aunt Cicely used to say "Get to bed earlier". I say, carry on yawning but try and not let the priest see. Yawning is so infectious and it is bad form to yawn at your own sermon!

Bonnie said...

I used to have a talker of a priest, and so I'd meditate on his first homily OR think about the Gospel OR look around me and play a game my college chaplain taught me:
How can I be the ambo for Christ?
How can I be the altar for Christ?
How can I be the finger bowl for Christ?
And on and on. We were not allowed to be a candle for Christ, since that was too easy.

Anonymous said...

I'd take him to the nearest tridentine. It's more grown up and far more engaging spiritually. I took my eighteen year old nephew (wouldn't go to local mass) to one before he tripped off to uni. His own words afterwards "I'd get out of bed for that mass" . Give it a try and get him the english translation in advance. You can't fool teenagers and they are not prepared to tolerate things in the way adults do. Good luck.

Anonymous said...

"Mass should be about Jesus, not priests"

How right he is. Another soul damaged by the NO.

The only solution is for him to go to Mass according to the traditional and true Roman Rite. Then he will see a Mass where God, and not the priest, is at the centre of attention.

Anonymous said...

Father, some more personal insights from someone who has fallen away, and is finding it hard to come back to ordinary parish life.

I think that you have identified something that is perhaps linked into much to do with the Novus Ordo Missae and modern liturgical practice in general, though of course there have always been the long winded sermons of varying quality. The liturgy has become 'ordinary', perhaps to familiar?

Many have commented on the need to return the focus on Christ in the liturgy, remove the personality of the priest, which I think really is a problem in the focus of the NO.

Each priest seems to say the NO Mass differently and their individual character really comes out, for good or bad, more than what I have experienced in the old Mass. Linked to this is then the lack of mystery, how can it be when you start to focus on a man?

A senior lecturer, who is my supervisor, and I were talking about just this yesterday here in Ireland. He was lamenting the total absence of mystery and aesthetic attraction in the NO, as it is often done here in parishes, his comment was that he really understands why most young people find it boring and irrelevant.

Most of my friends wouldn't go to Mass any more and more often than not it isn't because they don't believe in God or don't want religion it is (in their words) because it seems empty and pointless and therefore it is boring. If the liturgy becomes meaningless to you, how much more so the sermons?

Perhaps the liturgy should treats us like adults and not idiots? Latin is not to hard to understand, I don't want or need a poor imitation of 'folk-music or rock music', and I certainly do not need a sermon telling me to be good and feel nice, full of platitudes, waffle and quotes from poems, but 'meat'; tell me something that actually MEANS something!

For young men (myself here too)the sentimentality of it all is just to much too, but I think you have posted on that before. There is so much confusion.

Anonymous said...

...the advice to anyone young, esp. young men would be get involved with the Juventutem groups if they are close enough. I have friends in France who are involved in the traditional catholic scouting groups... far from boring! Sadly nothing like that here.

Dr. Peter H. Wright said...

I've given this question a lot of thought.

Many people lapse circa 18 years of age, and return in their own good time.

But many do not.

As to what to advise in a particular case, it depends on too many variables.

Is the youngster in full time work, full time employment or unemployed ?

Dore the youngster live in the family home, or live independently ?

Is the youngster bored with one particular parish, or the whole idea of Mass attendance ?

I wonder if the PP has been told he's boring people out of his church ?

Is the youngster bored with life in general ?

Has the youngster good work/career prospects ?

Is the youngster in the best of health ?

17/18 years of age is a time of change. Children are adults now, and want to find their own way, without quite knowing how to go about it.

Parents have to be ready to accept this, I'm afraid, and allow youngsters to make their own mistakes (up to a point).

If the youngster is in a reasonable state of mind, keep him/her that way.

It's no use to argue, bully or use emotional blackmail.

That will only further estrange the youngster.

And lines of communication need to be kept open , if possible.

This sounds a dreadful thing to say, but I would warn against excessive piety which might only worsen the situation.

Maintain friendly relations.

Hope and pray, do penance, but keep your thoughts and your prayers to yourself.

Many people don't like being prayed for.

Yes, an outside interest is essential, particularly amongst interesting people who have not lapsed.

If the youngster stays away from the boring PP, things might get better !

Think positive !

Just some thoughts.

Maria Neva said...

I'm a Director of Faith Formation at a parish in the States, however I am not a parent, so keep that in mind with these comments - they come mostly from my experience with teens going through Confirmation prep.

The key to it all is the Eucharist... if you truly believe in the presence of Christ, then no matter what the external "boredom" factor is, you will go to Mass. I have yet to find a teenager who believes in the Eucharist who will at the same time refuse to go to Mass because it is boring. But there are many teens who, if you ask them if they believe in the Eucharist after they complain of boredom at Mass, will scoff at the very idea.

How to solve this? Prayer and fasting of course, but also perhaps (depending on his personality) to challenge him in his understanding of Christianity as a whole. One error usually is a sign that there are many errors, including religious pluralism and "Good Guy" Jesus.

Another idea, which has worked in our parish (which is really a "suburban" parish, though an orthodox one, with a truly boring church building and sometimes-cheesy liturgies) is to reintroduce the youth to the mystery of Mass. Go out of your way to bring him to a beautiful church with a traditionally celebrated (with Latin, etc) liturgy. Don't let your first instinct convince you that "it will never work, he'll be more bored than ever!" Surprisingly enough, most of our youth really get a lot out of such a "field trip", where they truly begin to see the primacy of the Eucharist and our beliefs. They may not understand the Latin, but they "get" the meaning of the liturgical atmosphere, they are drawn to it, and it impacts their understanding of the Mass itself, including when they are back in our home parish on Sunday mornings.

This also works with younger kids - my nieces and nephews were brought by my brother to a traditional parish in downtown Phoenix (when he just couldn't stand the boredom of the happy-clappy church they were at) and from the first time the kids loved it more than my brother did!

And, another example - myself. I stopped going to Mass at 18, because it was boring (and, I didn't believe in the Eucharist, as a matter of fact). In college, I found myself one day in the Cathedral in St. Paul, and suddenly the dichotomy that I'd always felt between what I was supposed to believe about Jesus, and what we seemed to actually believe about him at our boring "me me me" Masses when I was growing up, was revealed to me. The beauty of the liturgy there was my first step back home to Christ and His Church.

I'm not saying to leave your parish, and I know nothing about the type of liturgy at your parish, but if your parish doesn't have a very good sense of sacred liturgy, it could be that your son is currently unable to see Christ through the communally created "prayer service" atmosphere.

In the end, I think that most of these youth do come back - but it usually happens in a way that parents would never predict! Just keep praying, and witnessing your faith, and things will work out in God's time!

Mulier Fortis said...

My advice to the parent in question: change parish.

gemoftheocean said...

I would say:

1. The most important thing about any Mass is to remember that Jesus Christ is present and if you are not in a state of mortal sin, you should receive Him. That's your whole purpose of being there. We may get other indirect benefits as well, such as some fellowship afterwards, etc. but that's not why you go to Mass. You may as well join a darts team for that.

To that end a little "refresher" might be useful. I've always found Scott Hahn's writings and tapes interesting. Here is a link to some of his transcripts. I've always found "The 4th Cup" and "The Lambs Supper" to be every well done.

I suspect it's really not "the Mass with all the sermons" that's keeping him away. Annoying as that is, NOTHING should keep you from your beloved. Is it possible that he's actually doubting the Real Presence and is afraid to say it out loud directly because he'll think you'll yell at him?

2. Remind him the words of John 6: "Unless you eat my flesh and drink my blood you have no life within you." Eucharist is a covenant renewal act between God and man. "You must be present to win" in other words!

3. If Jesus was walking down the street you'd rush to meet Him. Well, He's there at every Mass. I'd rush to meet Him if He was appearing at a circus tent or High Mass at the Sistine Chapel.

4. Granted, there are some styles of worship (all validly said) that suit one person's comfort zone more than another. Well, there's more than one way to skin a cat, and there's more than one parish on earth. It's not important, so much, WHICH Mass he attends, as long as he does go. Would he feel more drawn to a TLM, or even an eastern rite - where there is far less flying by the seat of the pants? Maybe even within the parish, it's just that particular priest? Maybe one of the other priests keeps the "multiple sermons" to just the one. (Or the one plus essential announcements.) Sometimes even the building itself can help. I, for one, don't like it when churches are built so they look like an auditorium with seats. Yes, the Mass is just as valid, but I don't find them conducive to intimate prayer. I have to "work harder" when in such a place.

5. Remember ALL the people on earth who CAN'T go to Mass, because the priest can only get to their area once a month, if that. OR worse, and more common, the people who are persecuted or thrown in jail for doing so. He is PRIVILEGED to live in a country where he may freely worship God, and no one will throw him in jail for doing so. When he goes, he's standing in also and in solidarity with all the people who CAN'T go.

6. See if there's a place where you can both do some Eucharistic adoration. There's nothing like just sitting and contemplating God Almighty when he's visible in a monstrance and it's just you sitting with your thoughts and Him. It should make your son LONG for the Eucharist, to receive. I'd say Benediction should have the same effect.

7. Does he have a girlfriend? He's complaining about Mass being "same old, same old" every time. Has he only kissed his girlfriend "once?" Does that ever "Get old?" How about telling your loved ones that you love them "just once?" No. Once is never enough. You never say "Well, I don't bother telling you I love you because I said it once back 10 years ago and I figured you just knew."

Hope this helps.

Anonymous said...

If you can afford it, ship him off to World Youth Day in Sydney this summer.

nickbris said...

The Peace & Tranquility in church and during Mass is just what yo need in a place like St Swithins,the Christian Brothers would ensure that it was appreciated.A bit of time in a good Catholic Boarding School would ease the boredom and get him fit to face the world.

Anonymous said...

In the early 60's J. F. Kennedy said "We go the to moon not because it is easy but because it is hard".

N.O. makes thisngs easy!

Anonymous said...

My own son is about at this point. Father talks a lot and about nothing really--well himself or maybe disarmament but certainly not Catholic teaching or the Gospel. A protestant is coming to do the parish 'mission'. Pathetic.

Andrew said...

I'll be speaking from experience here, stemming from being a young person bored to shreds by a '3-sermon-a-Mass' priest and as a catechist with Confirmation year kids (who are confirmed at age 17 here).

The most important thing that can be conveyed is the truth about the Mass, the Eucharist and the Presence of Christ. If one firmly believes in this truth, no matter what the trial, or who, in this case, a way to persevere will be found.

Firm belief in the truth and in Jesus and His Church will spur us to go through the trouble to find an alternative. I myself would have left the Church long ago, what with the heresy sometimes preached, the insipid liturgies and vapid homilies. But because I came to be firmly convinced, I stayed, attended another parish for a while before coming back to my own.

We all want a bells and smells Mass all the time, but can we recognize the presence of Christ, not only veiled by the appearance of bread and wine, but obscured by the antics of the priest as well?

My priest preaches silly things, during the homily, when everyone is kneeling and can't get away before he starts the Eucharistic Prayer and before the Pater Noster. And mind you, the latter two can be quite long, in addition to an already long homily.

The young get bored. They want to get Confirmed, to graduate from catechism and leave the Church. But tell them the truth and tell it straight, convince them and bring them to Faith, them reveal the possibilities, the beauty that exists in the Church, and they'll stay.

But personal growth and spiritual development is also important. If that is in danger, then go to another parish because not all of us are at that stage of sainthood as to be able to offer it up every week.

gemoftheocean said...

"well himself or maybe disarmament"

Oh, geez. Disarmament? I'd go out for a smoke myself. and I don't even smoke, but I'd take it up just so I could do something more constructive than listen to some hippy in sandals prattle on about disarmament.


Anonymous said...

Change parish!
I have three teens 18,16 and 14 as well as the smalls and I am acutely aware that Mass has to be Holy to hold them. The boys serve and I think this has helped me a huge amount in keeping them keen, but my daughter is a pew sitter and baby grappler along with me; I don't think she would be too impressed if Father behaved as though Mass was all about him and his views.

We used to go to the children/youth Mass when they were younger but I was soon told they hated it because it was fussy and silly (and had BAD music) so we now attend the 'normal' Mass with bells and smells. To quote Charlotte Mason 'Children don't need to be twaddled at' and teens HATE it.

JARay said...

I'm an old-fashioned man. Maybe I just never got youths like this when mine were youths. My attitude was always "If you live in this house you go to Mass. I won't take any dissent from you. You WILL go" I lost my youngest when he went away from home and lived amongst pagans. The other two simply don't argue. They go. And I make sure that they do. Any attempt at backsliding and I create a huge fuss. They know me well enough by now that Dad just won't tolerate it.

Anonymous said...

Try giving him the life of St Edmund Campion to read. Reading about the sacrifices the English Martyrs were prepared to kmake for the sake of the Mass may help him to realise that its is what the Mass IS that is important, not how it is celebrated. So it has been for one of my daughters.
another Clare

Anonymous said...

As a 17 year old I can sympathize with the lad somewhat. For me, it's not that I find Mass boring, it's just that I'm not sure I believe anymore, and so I've started to feel a bit hypocritical still going to Mass. I can't work out whether I go because I love the people in the parish or because I really believe. I've been to Lourdes and I'm going to World Youth Day later this year, but again I'm not sure if I should go.

gemoftheocean said...

To Anon who is not sure whether he/she still believes. I think it very natural to question one's faith at age 17 - because you do want to see at this point whether or not it's something you actually believe yourself, and not just something you believe because of social pressures or family pressures.

Looking back on my life, I too questioned all the beliefs and fortunately for me found that the more I was willing to dig deep for the church's answer to my question(s) -- not only did the church have an answer to the question(s) I sought, but most convincing ones. I think what father Ray said about giving yourself a challenge is important. Sometimes in religious education classes for young people, they are afraid to throw out the more difficult questions concerning the faith for fear that potentially "sewing doubt" would cause a young person to lose faith. I think if you don't confront the questions when a person is ready for them, as you are, is where the danger lies. Go ahead and question EVERY aspect of your faith. But be comforted that millions have also gone on that journey.

Ask yourself: Do you believe Jesus Christ is God? If yes, then what He said was important, then start with John 6. That's the whole core of our faith. If you even question if God exists at all, then there.

Google around for Scott Hahn, the link I have above is very good. Be comforted that God does love you, and it's good to have both intellectual backing for you faith, as well as the emotional/undefinable side to the faith and all that entails.

Also is a very good Catholic apologetics website.

God Bless you,

Anonymous said...

A priest who takes the time to look him straight in the eyes and say, "Young man, do not leave the Church. Do not leave the Church. Do NOT leave the Church. ... Capisce?" can do a lot of good.

It seems simple but I've heard a lot of young people say things like -

no one ever told me to not leave the Church

no one ever told me to abstain from sex before marriage


Anonymous said...


Thank you for your advice. I have indeed been seeking out the answers to my many questions but every so often I hit a brick wall. I go to a non catholic sixth form after coming out of a catholic high school and whilst all of my friends accept my religious beliefs, they don't half grill me on some aspects of the faith-which i really don't mind-but lately when I've been explaining this or that I've thought to myself afterwards 'do I really believe it myself?'

gemoftheocean said...

Dear Anon 17; There comes a time in everyone's intellectual development where one would worry about someone if they DIDN'T hold their faith up to some rigorous analysis. It is perhaps more turbulent for people who go through it than not, but in the end, if they have persisted, they come out the stronger for having done so.

There are a number of Catholic Apologetics books, that might be useful, one I've always enjoyed in particular is Karl Keating's Catholicism and Fundamentalism. The UK Amazon Reference is on this page along with a number of other books by the author, it's by a Catholic who is noted in the field of lay apologetics. His prose style is very readable too. Intellectual and lively enough, but not arcane. Don't let the word "Fundamentalism" put you off. Although there are more fundamentalists in the US than the UK, the book covers a lot of assumptions most protestants have in common as their starting point.

Also Scott Hahn has a very readable hard-to-put down book of his conversion story from Presbyterian Minister to Catholic university professor at Franciscan University in Steubenville. What a road he and his wife and family traveled.

Also be aware that when one is young, one may receive simple explanations which may be adequate for a 7 year old, but not for the later teen or young adult. You would not feel a child equipped for the modern world with what he learned at age 7 -- but yet many receive 1st communion and confirmation, then think they've got it all down, or it's adequate.
You NEVER stop learning about your faith, no matter how old you are. Be aware that your teachers weren't necessarily holding anything back from you, but there are just some refinements that would be over a 7 year old's head. For instance: You want to impress on the 7 year old it's not right to lie. Yet, the 17 year old needs to know about legitmate mental reservation. In other words if a Nazi pounds on your door and says "Tell me where the Jews are hiding, don't lie to me" -- yes, you are not bound to tell him the truth!

Some topics DON'T make sense to cover until you're older. Artificial Birth control for instance, why the church teaches as it does.

The Catholic church, I have found, has thought about all these ethical and moral issues for close on 2000 years now. You have a rich well of Catholic thought to draw on. Don't take the 7 year old's answer any more. (Though sometimes that is good enough by itself.) Always challenge yourself. And pray to God to give you strength on your journey. Never stop praying and loving Him who has opened the gate of heaven for you. It's up to you by His grace to allow yourself to be led through it. God Bless you.

BTW, it's often said the teacher learns more than his students. Your sixth form friends are really, in the long run giving you an opportunity for a win-win. Had you not been in with them now, you might be tempted to be complacent and not challenge yourself intellectually. And stagnation isn't good! God Bless you.


Anonymous said...

This guy needs real men to inspire him. If not a father, than he definitely needs real-men priests.

Throwing Scott Hahn books at him is an absolute joke. Keep him away from all women associated with the Church. This is the worst thing for him.

This is why so many lost souls in the West drift to Islam -- our feminized Christianity cannot support what young men need: real men as role models, brotherhood, sacrifice, challenge. Not Scott Hahn or Catholic Answers apologists.

Please ladies stop trying to help.

Anonymous said...

Turn the Other Cheek--And Then Use the Left Cross

From Reuters: Father Zbigniew Dudek teaches teenagers how to box at a boxing club in Maslonskie, near Czestochowa, southern Poland, about 240 km (150 miles) from Warsaw, January 21, 2008. The Catholic priest teaches teenagers how to box in his free time from holding mass.

""Good for him. I hate seeing families come to Mass with the father missing. Yet, that is a not uncommon sight. I bet there would be more men at your average Mass if more former teenage boys could remember a priest that had taught them how to box.""

gemoftheocean said...

Anon: You're so cute when you're angry. Did you have a big sister who pulled down your trousers to spank you and you're so afraid of women that you can't sign your name? And then you turn around and say men like Scott Hahn and Karl Keating of Catholic answers aren't needed? At least we know their names! Last I looked Scott Hahn and Karl Keating were MEN. One of whom I know personally.

Incidently, we don't know if "Anon 17" is a male or female. Unless, of course you have some sort of clairvoyance.


Anonymous said...

Dear Karen,

Women need to know their place within the Church. This is one of the greatest problems of our age. Any parish today is full of clacking busy-body ladies, all hovering around the chapel and the offices of the parish -- taking care of their, more times than not, feminized "father" hidden away in his office. Any church run by women (and so many of our parishes today are literally run entirely by women) becomes a form of Catholicism foreign to tradition. I love women. I love my mother, my pious aunts, my pious little daughters who pray so devoutly, my dear wife who holds my world together, etc. If you cannot understand the potential danger to opening the doors of the Church to being administered by women, then you are sadly misguided and deluded.

This issue of young men being turned away is just one of many reasons. Young men should be the future of the Church - our future priests, bishops, and Catholic lay leaders. But they need to be properly formed and inspired for these lofty purposes. Women in the Church, and the environment they create, turn away these young men.

Sure some boy can navigate their way through the feminized Church and still become good Catholic men. But there are also the ones who are indeed attracted to the feminized Church. The ones who are drawn to the Church because it's run by women and they want to play the role of goofy, slightly effeminate Fr. X, being led around by his coven of busy-body ladies.

I don't begrudge you and your love for Scott Hahn. I myself have found some of Scott Hahn's work and definitely a lot of Karl Keating's work to be beneficial to my faith. But the question at hand is what do young, adolescent males need to keep them from drifting out of the Church. I can categorically say they do not need books by Scott Hahn or Karl Keating. I'm sure Hahn and Keating are "real men." I never meant to imply otherwise. But a boy doesn't need books by real men; he needs their time, attention, and personal guidance.

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